In Revelation 2, as we continue through seven letters to seven churches, written by Jesus to His church – both in 95 AD, and prophetically throughout church history.
Now before we jump in, there’s something I should point out as I cover centuries of history in just a few minutes. I am making some vast generalizations here. And as with all generalizations, they don’t apply to everyone, and a lot of details get missed. The Christian church is a wide and varied body of individuals, and our history is complex. Still, it is good to get a broad view, and especially to find out what Jesus says to his church.
That’s the point here: not so much to cover history but to hear from Jesus. And Jesus ends this whole section by saying, “Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline.” The bottom line on all of this is Jesus’ love for His church. All of his church. We don’t deserve it, but he loves us. And in love, he disciplines us and calls us to repent. So take it to heart.
Well, letter number four is for Thyatira. Again, a real church in the first century, and I believe also representing the age of the Catholic church in the west and Orthodox church in the East from 590 to 1517 AD. And in some ways, both of those churches today. Thyatira means “continual sacrifice,” which is exactly what Catholics hold the mass to be: a never-ending sacrifice of Jesus’ body. But Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished.”
Jesus introduces himself in verse 18 as “the Son of God,” with eyes of fire and feet of bronze. He sees, and he judges. In verse 19, Jesus commends the church for their good works, with love and faith, service and perseverance.
And he says their works are getting better! It’s true – the Catholic & Orthodox churches have done and still do phenomenal good works around the world, from Father Damien to Mother Teresa to countless more. But in verse 20:
“Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel…” (Revelation 2:20).
Jezebel is an Old Testament villain, wife of Ahab, an awful king. Jezebel murdered the prophets of God, and in one story she helped her husband steal property by falsely accusing the owner of cursing God. She arranged an inquisition to have the man accused and put to death, all just to take his property.
Back in church history, the period from 600 to 1500 was a time of great power and corruption for the church. The Inquisition made many false accusations, and with them stole incredible amounts of property and land, just like Jezebel. Back in verse 20, Jesus says, “By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality.” Church history is far too full of sexual immorality. From popes to priests and on down.
But notice, Jesus says it all starts with bad teaching. Teaching like indulgences: paying off sins by donating to the church, as if God accepted bribes. And simony: buying your way into church offices. With His eyes of fire, Jesus says:
“I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds” (2:23)
Now Jesus also speaks to the many in Thyatira “who do not hold to her teaching.” And to them, he gives no correction. Even within a corrupt church, there may be many faithful, and Jesus tells them to hold on until he comes.
Again he calls to the overcomers, and promises an awesome reward.
Now, don’t take this and go Catholic bashing! Jesus loves His bride – the church, the whole church. Those he loves, he disciplines. And Protestants are up next! But that will wait for chapter 3.
We close out our first series here, but please come back for more of Revelation Explained. In series 2, we get to the Protestant Reformation, to the age of denominations, and right into our churches today. Then we move from past – to present – to future – and the beginning of the end.
So please join us for Part 2. Also, you can find our full length audio guides through lots more Bible books on the Through the Word app and website. In verse 29:
“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:29).